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Award of Two NFL Franchises May Trigger New Bidding War

COMPETING OFF THE GRIDIRON

By Ross AtkinStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 2, 1993



BOSTON

FOOTBALL upset of the week: Jacksonville, Fla., converts what appears to be a long-yardage situation to beat out St. Louis, Baltimore, and Memphis for a National Football League (NFL) expansion franchise.

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Tuesday's announcement in Chicago may be the final chapter in the long selection process, but the ``fun'' of wooing existing teams to other cities may only be beginning. As Walter Payton, a Hall of Fame running back involved in the St. Louis bid, said: ``We just ended one game ... and they're just starting to deal again.''

The decision to award Jacksonville the league's 30th franchise came a month after Charlotte, N.C., was named its 29th outpost.

Jacksonville was a near-unanimous pick of the 28 team owners, who were glad to tap into a growing region and avoid lawsuits that might have encumbered some of the NFL's other available choices. The downside could be stiff competition from popular, high-ranked college teams at Florida State and Florida.

The Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers must pay $140 million each for the privilege of NFL membership compared with the $16 million Seattle and Tampa Bay, Fla., paid when the league last awarded franchises, in 1974. They will begin play in 1995.

By stiff-arming St. Louis aside, the NFL raises more questions than an SAT exam:

* What will St. Louis, the only candidate city to have broken ground on a new stadium, do to replace the hoped-for Stallions? It's too early to tell, but dome officials certainly realize that tractor pulls and trade shows are poor substitutes for NFL status.

* Will the New England Patriots, owned by St. Louis businessman James Orthwein, turn Traitors and move to Missouri? Not likely, but certainly not without a major fight. NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue says league rules ``require owners to show that they can do better in a new territory.'' Furthermore, the Patriots' stadium lease in Foxboro, Mass., runs through 2002.

* Will any of the NFL's other frustrated suitors attempt to woo existing franchises away from their current homes? Probably, since there are reports that the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams, as well as the Patriots, could be looking for greener pastures.

* Will the Colts marching band, still playing nine years after the team abandoned Baltimore for Indianapolis, finally call it quits?

* And will the Canadian Football League (CFL), or some other group, try to go into cities denied NFL status? CFL commissioner Larry Smith says the league has been contacted by interested parties in Memphis, Baltimore, Nashville, Portland, Ore., and Louisville, Ky., and indicates that the potential for creating an American division exists. Las Vegas, Nev., will join Sacramento, Calif., in the CFL next season.